|by Kim Johnson • December 29, 2008|
From the first time Chad Bush ’95 visited campus during his junior year of high school, he knew Wabash was where he wanted to be. He had no idea how much it would prepare him for the challenges that awaited him later in life.
"Wabash looked like what I thought aesthetically college looked like. And me being nostalgic or romantic, it just looked like Ivy League circa 1850 – with the mall and Chapel at the end – it just felt like college to me.
"Even though I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I knew I was looking for a unique educational experience. I wanted something that was academically challenging."
The English major who played defensive back on the Little Giants Football Team felt genuinely welcome at Wabash from the personal, hand-written letters to the compliments he received on things he had accomplished. Unlike other schools he visited, Wabash "always made me feel like they were happy to have me there. And they still make people feel that way."
Bush found Wabash to be different from other colleges in other ways too. "They don’t force you in to anything. Wabash inspires a love of learning because it is a liberal arts school and if you allow yourself to be captivated by the idea that I’m not a student of business or a student of science or language but a that I’m a student, period, and I will always be a student, period, it opens you to a love of learning.
"It inspired you to want to always be around people who were trying new things and doing new things and learning new things."
Bush believes the Gentleman’s rule plays a big part of that. "It lets you fail miserably. It lets you fall down. Wabash becomes a safe environment for young leaders to make their own mistakes. It is four years that gives a young man a safe environment to learn who he is. He may not figure it out until he’s 35 but it starts him on a path."
Through his trials, errors, and learning at Wabash he learned not to let challenges or setbacks derail him.
He came to Wabash with aspirations to be a lawyer, but during his sophomore year he deviated from his plan (although he has not ruled out law school at a future date). After he told his parents he did not want to pursue a law degree, his father encouraged him to become a teacher and coach.
"My dad always wanted to be a teacher and coach. He’s a steel worker. He has a college degree but he ended up in the mill, which for a lot of men in western Pennsylvania that were of his generation, even though they did go away to college and come back, they ended up in the mill because that was the way to make the most money for their families."
Bush followed the advice of his father and began work towards a teaching career. After graduation Bush returned to "The Region" and his high school alma mater, Crown Point High School to teach English and coach football and baseball.
"As it turned out, I benefitted from my dad’s advice. I always do. Maybe not forever but I always do. He’s a smart guy."
Bush taught for seven years before he had outgrown his time in education. In addition, by that time, Chad and his wife Michelle had a newborn daughter, Reilly. With Michelle finishing her college education, living on a teacher’s salary was difficult.
Bush also recalls, "I was a square peg in a round hole," Bush said. "I’m liberal. I’m aggressive. I’m an activist. I’m in a small Midwestern town. I’m pushing the envelope. Education got sick of me and I got sick of education.
"It had served its purpose in my life and I had served my purpose in the community. It was time to look for a different challenge."
Bush began working for BioMet, Inc. as a medical device representative. The company specializes in trauma and spine hardware.
As it turns out, the new challenges he would face after leaving education were far greater than he ever thought.
Five years later, a few months after the birth of their second child, Gabe, Chad and Michelle lost their daughter Reilly to complications with the flu. The family was devastated but found the strength to keep Reilly’s memory alive by starting a not-for-profit foundation to benefit children.
Now, one and half years later, the foundation is thriving and supports a variety of programs including giving "Stupendous" packages (Reilly’s favorite word) to girls in the hospital, enrichment scholarships, and educational programs that teach kids from four-years-old through high school the importance of community service and philanthropy.
Along with raising their son Gabe and new daughter Sophia Reilly, both Chad and Michelle continue to work full-time jobs and juggle running the Reilly C. Bush Foundation during their evenings and weekends.
"Sometimes it sucks checking your e-mail at midnight on a Friday night or working an eight hour event on a Saturday trying to do things for other people when maybe your own life isn’t going perfectly. But every time we get down and think that it’s just too much work, or that it would just be easier to go home and raise our family, Reilly seems to help us through it.
"It ends up a success and we impact more kids, they impact more kids, and communities get better from doing what we do."
To learn more about the Chad and Michelle Bush and the Reilly C. Bush Foundation, see the Fall 2008 issue of Wabash Magazine.